Texas Sues Feds for Telling Schools Not to Discriminate Against Transgender Kids

Surprise! Texas is suing the Obama administration. Again. And taking a firm stand against equality in public bathrooms. Again. 

This afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called a press conference to say that Texas will refuse to follow directions from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, which say that, under Title IX, schools should allow transgender students to play on sports teams and use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. Instead, the state, along with ten others, will be suing the feds, claiming that the Obama administration is bypassing Congress by issuing these guidelines and that it isn't fair that the feds have threatened to take away funding should the state not comply. “Our local schools are now in the crosshairs of the Obama Administration, which maintains it will punish those schools who do not comply with its orders," Paxton said. "These schools are facing the potential loss of school funding for simply following common sense policies that protect their students."

Paxton said that this lawsuit is also about protecting the Harrold Independent School District, which has 100 student, and which just passed a rule saying that students are required to use the bathroom that corresponds with their sex at birth. But given the feds made clear in their guidance that if schools enact policies like this one, they will be at risk of losing federal education funding, Superintendent David Thweatt said the district could lose $117,000 a year, should the suit fail. For Texas as a whole, it could lose $3.1 billion.

Yes, Texas is willing to put billions of dollars of federal education funds on the line, and also pay potentially millions in litigation fees, just to maintain its desire to discriminate against transgender K-12 kids, who are already subjected to bullying from their peers.

As Equality Texas said in a statement: "The attorney general has determined to waste millions in an obviously futile attempt to prevent our transgender citizens, and in particular transgender kids, from being afforded the most basic dignity."

The letter that the DOJ and DOE sent to all the country's schools on May 14 makes clear that, under their interpretation of Title IX, sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity. The guidance itself does not carry the force of law, but the feds have said that, if you're a school receiving federal funding, then you must follow the federal Title IX law (AKA, if you don't, then, voila, you don't get federal funding). The feds also emphasized that transgender students should be treated the way they would like to be treated and called the name and pronoun they prefer.

"As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases,” the letter says, “the desire to accommodate others' discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students to ensure that all students, including transgender students, can attend school in an environment free from discrimination based on sex.”

Unfortunately, in Texas, the University Interscholastic League, which regulates state high school athletics, already made a rule this year that says kids must play on sports teams that correspond with their sex at birth. Essentially meaning, then: If you are transgender, you can't play. It's a policy that the feds have also stated in their guidance violates Title IX, since it excludes a whole class of kids based on their gender identity.

Should Texas lose and continue to refuse to follow the directive, sounds like the state may have to kiss those billions of dollars in education funding goodbye. So far, state officials don't appear too worried about that. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already said he doesn't want the money anyway.

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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn
Leif Reigstad